Retirement brings end to “great ride” for bank executive

Steve Irion, business banking manager and community bank president at Wells Fargo in Grand Junction, plans to retire in December, ending at 35-year career in the industry. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Steve Irion, business banking manager and community bank president at Wells Fargo in Grand Junction, plans to retire in December, ending at 35-year career in the industry. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Steve Irion doesn’t know exactly what he’ll do when he no longer works in a bank and admits the uncertainty is a bit unsettling.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling.”

What Irion does know about his impending retirement is that he plans to continue living in the Grand Valley and remain involved in the community. His optimistic outlook for the local economy hasn’t changed, either, although he believes more investment and collaboration are required to promote growth. “We need to create that vision of what we want to be and go out and do it.”

Irion expects to retire in December, ending a 23-year career with Wells Fargo, the last five as both business banking manager and community banking president in Grand Junction. His work in the banking industry reaches back another dozen years.

“It’s been a great ride,” Irion said.

That ride has been bumpy at times, he said, as technology, regulation and consolidation have affected the banking industry. Meanwhile, the Grand Valley economy has gone through changes as well in part because of the cyclical nature of the energy industry, he added.

While Irion said he won’t miss the stress that has sometimes come with the job, he said he will miss the relationships he’s developed over the years with co-workers and customers.

Irion joined Wells Fargo in Grand Junction 1993 and subsequently served in a number of positions in business and retail banking. He was promoted to business banking manager in 1996. In 2006, he was promoted again to community banking president for the Grand Junction market and at that time managed a total staff of more than 125 working at six locations in the Grand Valley. In 2010, Irion took on a role as both business banking manager and community banking president.

Irion moved to Grand Junction in 1990 to work at what is now U.S. Bank. He began his banking career in Montana, working as an internal auditor before moving into commercial lending.

While Irion earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University as well as a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Montana, his first job was in a far different field: professional basketball.

Irion played basketball for Harvard and led the team in scoring and rebounding his junior year. A knee injury kept him from playing his senior year and also, he suspected, hurt his chances as a draft prospect for the National Basketball Association.

Irion played professional basketball instead in England and subsequently was recruited to play in Australia.

Irion’s life changed, though, when he returned to Montana to visit his family and met the woman who became his wife. Rather than play professional basketball in Australia, Irion says he decided instead to earn an MBA and “get a real job.”

He says his first banking job as an internal auditor exposed him to a range of operations that included deposits, loans and personal banking. “It was a great learning ground. I saw a little bit of everything.”

That first job constituted a good foundation for his subsequent work in commercial lending and then management, he adds.

Irion said he’s also had to remain flexible over the course his career given the changes to the banking industry.

Technology has brought some of the biggest changes of all with first automatic teller machines and then banking through the Internet and mobile devices. “It’s so much different than back in the day.”

Government regulation has changed the industry as well and imposed compliance costs that have been passed on to customers in the form of higher prices for products and services, he says.

Even as the banking industry has become more consolidated, it’s become more competitive, Irion says. Wells Fargo has fared well, though, he says, with a diverse financial services operation that includes not only banking, but also insurance, investments and mortgages.

Diversity has been an important attribute as well in helping the Mesa County economy reduce its dependence on the energy sector, Irion says. That dependence remains evident, though, in the bust that followed the natural gas development boom and slow recovery that’s ensued in part because of low natural gas prices.

Mesa County has a lot going for it, Irion says, in a mild climate and regional health care facilities that attract retirees  and a growing Colorado Mesa University that educates a work force that attracts employers. Outdoor recreation and arts and culture add to the desirable lifestyle, he says.

But a greater investment in economic development is needed to produce a greater return, he says, as well as more collaboration to develop and promote a shared vision of what the community should be. “We need to come together as a community. What do we want to be when we grow up?”

Irion remains upbeat in his outlook. “It’s going to take a group effort by all involved, and I see what happening.